Copyright is held by the author.
“MOM’S GONNA kill me.” I was watching for her friend Gloria’s car, dreading its arrival.
“I’m sure he’ll show up,” said my best friend Cassie.
“Now would be a good time.” I was fighting back tears, pacing up and down the driveway.
“I bet any minute he’ll come running out of nowhere, grinning from ear to ear.”
“Mik-ey!” I turned a 360 as I hollered his name and cupped my hands around my mouth. The neighbourhood was quiet at this time of day with most people getting ready for dinner. “You better get out here right now or you’re in BIG trouble.”
“I really gotta go or my Mom will be mad,” Cassie said, turning to head down the driveway. She lived four houses away.
“Cassie, you’re my friend. You can’t leave.”
“All right. All right. I’ll stay for a minute.”
“Thanks. You try the backyard and I’ll cover out here. That way I can keep an eye out for Mom.” I started to head toward the hydrangea beside the pear tree at the front corner of our lot.
“I already looked out back.” Cassie stood planted in the same spot.
“You know he cheats. He’s always switching hiding places after we already looked.”
“Really? Who does that?”
“A pain in the butt, that’s who.” I blew air out of my lips. “You should see him peeking when we play cards. He’s the worst cheater ever.”
The neighbourhood gang always gathered in our backyard to play hide ’n’ seek. We had a huge lot and there were many places to hide. We had a woodshed, a wood pile, a garden and tons of trees and junk all over the back yard. I thought I knew all the spots until today.
Like a mountain lion, I crept toward the pear tree and pounced, trying to catch him off guard. Nothing. There was overgrown grass at the far side of the lawn that never got mowed. Sweeping my foot from side to side, I endured the tickling against my calves. Grasshoppers hopped out of the way with each swoosh. It was trampled in places from previous rounds of hide ’n’ seek, but no Mikey.
The well had a small housing over the hole but Mikey was such a runt, he was small enough to hide behind it. I gasped. No. He couldn’t be in the well. He was an eight-year-old idiot, but even he’s not that stupid. Racing to the spot, I couldn’t even budge the cover with the concrete block Dad had placed on top. Phew!
Now the front porch. The lattice work was damaged in one spot with a hole big enough for a cat or a raccoon or a pipsqueak. You would never catch me going in there with the raccoon poop, dead mice and god knows what else. To him, it was an adventure. To me, gross.
“Mikey. I know you’re in there. Come on out.” Bending down and peeking in, it took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. All I could see was small mounds of dirt, a dented juice box and a Zellers flyer, yellow and faded.
Where is that kid? Mom would be home soon from her trip into the city with Gloria. She had agreed that 12 years of age was a good time to start babysitting in the neighbourhood, and me babysit Mikey would be perfect. Dad was at work all day and Gloria picked Mom up at about eleven in the morning. If I screwed up with Mikey today, Mom would never let me babysit anywhere and I would be poor all my life. All my friends had money to go to movies when they wanted and buy new clothes. Mom was so mean.
“Any luck?” Cassie’s voice was coming from the backyard.
“I’ll try the tree house behind the garden.”
“Good idea.” You would think all the shouting would have Mikey gloating. All the other kids had gone home 15 minutes ago. He clearly won. What else did he want?
I banged into the hood of Mom and Dad’s Ford Galaxy as I sprinted around the corner. Did anyone else in the world have such an annoying kid brother?
Apple trees were next on my radar. He couldn’t climb them without a boost. Lucky me. Maybe today was the day he mastered tree-climbing on his own. Walking all around the base of one tree after another, I strained to see the bottom of a pair of Nikes. No luck. I wanted to strangle him. He was ruining my chances of having any kind of life.
Cassie made me jump as she materialized beside me. “I looked in the garden between the rows of corn, in the tree house and all around the wood pile. I didn’t see him anywhere. Maybe he went to Bobby’s house?”
“If he did, I’m gonna strangle him.” I folded my arms. “But, even Mikey wouldn’t leave without permission. He’s gotta be around here somewhere.”
“I’m sorry but I have to head home. I promised Mom I’d help with dinner.”
“Whatever,” I said, rolling my eyes. Looking at me, Cassie’s arms hung at her sides and her shoulders drooped.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “I know you have to go.” Mikey’s disappearance was my problem, not hers.
“I’m really sorry. I’m sure he’ll show up.”
“I know. I’ll find him. Maybe I’ll try the woodshed in case he crawled in behind some wood and covered himself with blocks.”
“Good luck. Gotta go. Talk later?” She jogged down the driveway.
“For sure.” Racing off to the woodshed I pulled the door open. The cracks in the sides of the shed let light stream in, making lines on the floor. My footsteps made dust clouds like Pigpen as I moved around. Grabbing one block of wood at a time I began throwing them aside, not caring where they landed. He’s ruining my life; serves him right if one smacked him on the head.
I sighed. He wasn’t in the woodshed. Or behind it. He wouldn’t have gone into the trails in the woods. He’s too much of a scaredy cat; he can’t sleep without his blanket.
I heard a car coming up the road, spraying gravel as it went. I held my breath until it whizzed by. Thank goodness; I had more time.
If I were a scrawny eight year old, where would I hide? Aha! “That little bugger.” I mumbled to myself. I clenched my fists and stormed past the car and into the house, heading straight to his bedroom. “Michael Jeremy, get out here.” I knew I’d find him sitting in the middle of the floor, corgi toys all around him, a big grin on his face.
I took the steps two at a time and stopped at his bedroom door. What I found was an unmade bed and his pajamas in a ball on the floor. My eyes began to water as I walked into his room, my heart beating out of my chest. Where could Mikey have gone?
The screen door made an annoying squeak as it opened. I raced to the kitchen to find him, one cheek rose-coloured with his hair plastered down on the same side. He made fists, stretched, and raised his arms in the air. His yawn was so big I could see his tonsils. For a brief moment I wanted to hug him.
Then I raised my hand to slap the back of his head. “What the . . .”
I heard a car door. I shot Mikey an I’ll deal with you later look that I had learned from Mom.
Mom smacked her shopping bags against the screen door and Mikey accommodated by opening it as wide as it could go. She entered, kissed Mikey on the cheek and dropped her treasures on the floor.
Mom turned and stood in the doorway, half in and half out. Waving out the driveway, she shouted, “Thanks Gloria. We should do this again some time.”
Back inside, she started shuffling through her parcels. Looking at me, she said, “So-o-o, how’d it go?”
“Great!” I gave her the biggest, brightest smile I had.
Mom stopped digging in the bags and straightened up. Oops. I should have toned down the enthusiasm.
“That’s . . . nice.”
I thought I was free and clear until, “By the way, who left the back door of my car wide open?”